A relentless people

Aleksandr V. Gevorkyan

[in Russian / на русском]

Piercing through the depths of a dark and exhausting night, the passenger plane was on its final approach. The plane was going through turbulence in the clouds, as some civilization’s lights appeared down below. Two rows behind a man woke up dialing his phone informing someone on the other side of the line that things were fine and landing was soon. Within seconds another man across the aisle did the same. A woman stood up sorting through her carry-on, chatting up with someone else from few rows away. Flight attendants rushed to get the passengers back into their seats with seatbelts fastened but only for few moments. Within minutes another group of passengers was up on their feet chatting and joking with others. The only way through all that was to land the damn thing and get the people off as fast as possible. Naturally, once the plane was in “parking position” those from the very back rows ended up impatiently standing in the alley before those in the front rows could blink their eyes. The scene, so frequently repeated on even the most refined of flights, was somewhat unique on this occasion. We have finally arrived to the Zvartnots airport in Yerevan, Armenia…

In this place, there is some sort of relentless will to live: to live in the fast lane. One can tell that by the cars speeding through the intersections – clearly, it is the very last moment and at no time else that the driver can make this turn, or so it seems. Spontaneous chaotic crowding in the shopping malls is also normal because it may be a sign of something in deficit and worthy of attention, which could potentially be “crucial” in improving one’s living conditions. There is an ancient tomb (from the Urartu kingdom of the 8th century BCE) adjacent right next to one of the shopping centers—few of the staff would know about it but then it is not so old compared to the fortress or other even lesser known archaeological sites… The 5,500-year old leather shoe itself is older than life…

The fog and cold are mind dumbing coupled with excessive amount of over-priced coffee that doesn’t seem to be helping with the annoying jet lag. By the way, coffee too has transformed from once a home-made delicacy, even when served in artisanal cafes, to a now standardized industrial production of multi-functional coffee machines. What remains is just the occasional smell of roasted coffee beans crushed to make countless cappuccinos (with a required signature foam patterns)… This place is relentless and its people just don’t rest in their push for everything new and perfect.

The slopes of Aragats

One might hike the entire Appalachian Trail or walk the Trail of Tears in just flip-flop-like worn-out and broken shoes eating wild berries to get by. But here, the ascent to the Aragats is an unannounced competition in comfortable hiking wear and gear, supplies preparation and careful planning of each activity and challenge to arise on the way. The post-socialist consumer economy takes over its reigns with a mirage of middle income living. And where the reality offers no hope, there is an unsatiated thirst to break out of the stifling mountains and to just live… Perhaps, that is a lesson in itself.

It is grey during the daylight and meeting friends is a diplomatic exercise in balancing between preferred cafes that are only few minutes away, if one walks across the city faster than speeding cars. There is a rush and lack of motion at the same time, a strange state to be in. Getting any work done in between the meetings is pointless – someone passing by would spot you and spend the next hour expressing their sincere joy of seeing you or might pretend to not notice and insulted for the lack of advance private notice of your arrival be on their way. But a reward from the actual half-an-hour meeting, repairing any injury to the visitor’s comfort, is a few hours-long conversation that starts with reserved optimism, jumps into desperation, landing in tragedy but always concluding with a louder than mountainous thunder “come back again, and soon!..”

How is this even possible?! Hasn’t this person just spent hours by detailing how it all was going down the drain? These people are relentless in their will to live.

And then they create. The new economy of consumer glitter has created restaurants that offer their signature production without the key ingredient… well because it only grows in spring, so… “come back again, and soon!” The glitter economy has also created a parallel world of worsening inequality unseen before and hushed away by the newly discovered cuddle of consumer credit bliss with varying affordability. Except, that the centuries old Christian monasteries stand in a perfect line formation miles apart from each other on top of massive gorge in their incredible sign of stability, aged-wisdom, perseverance, and talent. The newly created business schools with swelling enrollment try to emulate the ancient trade.

Mount Ararat and Monaster of Tegher (c 13 century), Armenia 2022
Tegher monastery & Ararat

But the work of street craftsmen, just as the medieval hand-written manuscripts would have it, is unprecedented in its quality—the master recognizes her work from a distance away, spending as much time as you might require to talk through designs and try-ons, even IF one has no intention to buy anything but asking you to “come back again…” when you can.

There is a new expat substratum struggling to decide how to process the harsh realities, to accept the fate or to go see a new movie in a forgetful state of mind. There is an equally sudden inflow of prodigal compatriots (sometimes, known as a diaspora) with limited forecast horizons and not having yet thought if they are acquiring citizenship of a country (nation) or that of the capital city’s center with all the subsequent excitements. But the push for new life is relentless and some hope for better in this whirlwind of these fast changing, yet kabuki-like, social settings.

There is the booming but largely export-oriented emerging tech sector, minimal to the size of the economy but, nevertheless, a Titanic in its expectations and monetary compensation demands. There is also the altruistically and underfunded support to the families of the veterans and those displaced by the conflict or living, now in the 2023 in a physical blockade. In the basement there are the sounds of a new folklore band, incredible professionalism, quality, and, yes, the will to live, to overcome, and to persist! They are a relentless people.

Exclamation marks, exclamation marks, and in the hot stew of confusion are only questions. There are no answers now. Perhaps there is hope, but that is a standard that guides no more and that is not the point.

Life is real, even though the impassable mountain ranges separate from those in dire need and cut-off from others, living now in a real blockade! Those people are of the same kin, celebrating louder and with more color than those busy shopping in the malls or hurrying through the airport security to the European resorts.

For this is a relentless people that have been devastated more than once by the millstones of history but they are not to be won over…